Strange things are afoot on the coast of Block Island. Dead fish wash up on the beach in their thousands. Birds start to fall from the sky, dead before they hit the ground. An elderly man wakes up on a boat, disoriented and with no memory of how he got there.
It seems that other people are being affected too, and when marine biologist Audry (Michaela McManus) arrives to investigate the beached fish, she finds her brother Harry (Chris Sheffield) as well as her father Tom (Neville Archambault) in emotional turmoil, angry and confused. Local conspiracy theorist Dale (Jim Cummings) has some thoughts on the connectedness of these occurrences – or is he just talking nonsense? Hopefully someone will find an answer, before something really bad happens…
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Receiving its world premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival, The Block Island Sound is the new horror-thriller from Kevin and Matthew McManus, whose former work includes Funeral Kings, and the deceptively clever mockumentary American Vandal. You should probably know, going into this film, that as well as being something you hear, a sound is a narrow sea or ocean channel that separates two bodies of land – in this case the mainland coast from an island.
The Block Island Sound is one of those films, much like The Endless, where to give much more than the first few minutes away would be to destroy the slow build of tension and the drip-feed of information that leads to the final reveal. It is definitely a thriller in terms of its tension levels and mystery, but its horror credentials lie more towards the creepy and sinister end of the spectrum rather than revelling in disgust or gore – something which should make it appeal to the general viewer and casual horror fan as opposed to just the hardcore Horror lover. There’s something of an X-Files flavour to its ecological mystery, creepy vibe, and rash of conspiracy theories, and it will keep you guessing as to its sub-genre right until the end.
It’s a well-made film; nothing feels ropey. The script is solid, although possibly a little too on the nose in places, and the story is told in a fairly straightforward way in spite of its mystery element. The structural simplicity of repetition and escalation, along with a moral to the story, are reminiscent of a children’s fable.
The three leads give a strong performance, and even if we don’t necessarily like their characters much, we invest in them enough to care – or at least want to know – what is happening to them. Neville Archambault in particular knows how to pull off a disturbing visual from the very first scene.
At a very reasonable 97 minutes long, the McManus Brothers manage to keep the story moving forward at a pace that both builds tension and sustains interest, interspersing the ominous sound design and visuals with the intensity of the family drama that is the other side of this story.
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When it comes to the ending, whether you feel that it was signposted all along, or whether you find it a surprising mislead, will very much depend on what you pay attention to. And whilst the premise, if you consider it too closely, might begin to fall apart, the overall story is engaging enough to make the film work.
The Block Island Sound is a neatly stitched together piece of work, and stands ready to unnerve and intrigue anyone who has a creepy-horror itch to scratch.
The Block Island Sound had its world premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on 28th August 2020.